Monthly Archives: January 2015

Curiosity is the gateway drug to learning

What have you learned today? I love to ask people that question. You know what the most common reply is? “I didn’t have time to learn anything today.” But if I ask, “Did you check Facebook today?” the reply is almost always yes.

This illustrates an important characteristic of human nature: We always seem to find time for the things that really matter to us. Kinda makes you wonder why we don’t find more time to learn.

Bruce Heavin, Cofounder and Chief Innovation Officer at lynda.com, likes to say, “Curiosity is the gateway drug to learning.” Truer words were never spoken.

Kids are born with curiosity. For the first years of their lives their only job is to learn how the world around them works. How to eat, how to walk, how to talk, how to play nicely with others, and so on until they reach a point when curiosity is no longer the driving force in their lives. Typically, that’s when they move from spending most of their time playing to spending most of their time doing tasks assigned by others, including parents, teachers, and eventually employers. In that long and gradual process kids don’t lose their curiosity as much as they stop indulging their natural inclination to follow where their curiosity leads. Who has time to be curious when we have tests to pass, work to do, and bills to pay?

We can be forgiven for getting lost in the busyness of our lives. From first light, it seems, we are swept along in an irresistible current of activity that carries us through the end of the day. So the real question is, how can we restore a little curiosity to our lives? Do that, and the learning will take care of itself.

For example, in the middle of a busy day, I often find myself engaged in a task that is harder than it ought to be. Maybe I’m creating a presentation, or trying to figure out how to use my new smart phone to send a text message, or wondering how I’m going to finish a project on time, or rehearsing a conversation I’m going to have with a difficult colleague, or wading through twice as much email as I have time to read. Sooner or later I find myself wondering, how do other people do this, especially the folks who are really good at it? Do they know something I don’t?

In a word, yes. And in a nutshell, that’s what learning is all about. Find someone who knows something you would like to know, something you’re curious about, and then pay attention.

I don’t know if I have more or less curiosity than other people, but I do know that when I’m curious about something I indulge that curiosity. Maybe I’ll Google it, or lynda it, or ask a friend. And eventually I’ll locate a nugget of information that helps me with what I’m trying to do. Interestingly, even though I’ve interrupted my day to be curious, I generally finish the task at hand sooner than if I hadn’t followed where my curiosity wanted to lead. I’ve actually saved time on what I’m doing by taking the time to learn how to do it better.

Derek Bok, when he was president of Harvard University, said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” That’s good advice, and here’s a variation on that theme: “If you think learning is time consuming, try ignorance.”

Which brings us full circle. What have you learned today? If you really don’t have time to learn anything, but you’re curious about those who do, check out these resources. (And if it helps, just pretend you’re on Facebook.)

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Keith Ellis is a bestselling author, elearning specialist, online training mentor, and management training consultant. He is the author of the bestselling thriller NO SECRETS, as well as THE MAGIC LAMP, the classic book about goal setting for people who hate setting goals, He serves as Head of Federal Training and eLearning for lynda.com.